As student council president in 1969-70, I often butted heads with Cal Plimpton, but today I recall his warmth, candor and generosity. I mourn the loss of a tender, tough man with a great sense of irony. (See “In memoriam: Calvin H. Plimpton ’39,” College Row, p. 3.)
While a student, I was angry that Cal was never as troubled as I was. I wanted him to feel primal angst, to be seared by war and death and corruption. He glided over the awful things as if he were skating on a marvelous rink of life. I ranted against him, hoping he would mimic my intolerance for the Nixon administration. In retrospect, I suspect that what he saw in Lebanon and in World War II made the hassles of Amherst seem amusing, cozy and entertaining.
Cal was a giant balloon: no matter where you hit him, he simply expanded in another direction. He was our punching bag and never complained. Instead, he laughed and asked his critics over for breakfast.
In 1970, when Americans discovered Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia, our college was a shining light in bleakness. Cal knew that we could find a way to grow from these failures of our government, and he was right. We suspended classes in May and talked for two days, the richest 48 hours of my college career. I argued politics with professors and classmates, people in town and students at UMass. I was delirious with metaphysical wisdom. A year earlier, Cal pulled the entire community together, writing a letter to Nixon that was mild, but that united our little Amherst community when the war threatened to tear us into isolated cliques.
Cal and my father were medical-school classmates at Harvard and served in the same surgical unit during World War II. They stayed in touch over the years. Talking with my father last night, I learned that in the 1980s, Cal flew to see my father’s solo art opening in Chapel Hill, N.C. Wearing a fabulous suit and looking even more imposing than usual, Cal announced to the docents that he was a buyer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. With measured slowness, he calmly examined each painting and then, suddenly, announced he would pick one for the permanent collection. His comment ignited the crowd; within minutes every painting had sold.
With ironic wit, Cal was delighted to take on the roles that he invented, roles we needed him to fill. Goodbye, Cal. I miss you.
Tito Craige ’70
Chapel Hill, N.C.
I appreciate the several nice letters you have published commenting on the magazine’s interview with me (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” Spring 2006). I do want, though, to comment on Jon Pierce’s description in the Summer/Fall 2006 Letters section of the U.S. military as one in the habit of “pillaging, plundering and destroying the less developed parts of [the world] in ways that would do Attila the Hun proud.”
War is, necessarily, a nasty business. Men and women under the stress of combat, including imminent threats to their own lives, will make mistakes. Pillaging, plundering and destroying, though, have never been acceptable practices in the U.S. military. Our military’s response to My Lai testifies to this.
We need well-educated people to lead our military—in both civilian and military positions. Amherst has a responsibility to train some of these leaders.
Stansfield Turner ’45
The writer is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former director of the CIA.
Poet Richard Wilbur ’42
I am seeking information for a critical biography of poet Richard Wilbur ’42. I hope to hear from former members of the Hurricane Class and other contemporaries (or alums from later years who might have met him) who are willing to share memories, letters or other material. I am particularly interested in recollections of those who might have worked with Wilbur on Touchstone or The Student. Please contact Robert Bagg ’57, Professor Emeritus of English, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 582 Pfersick Rd., Shelburne Falls, Mass., 01370; (413) 625-6197.
Robert Bagg ’57
Shelburne Falls, Mass.
The Fall/Winter 2006 issue of the magazine included a story on men’s basketball (“What it takes,” Sports) that misstated the average points per game of three players. Dan Wheeler ’07 averaged 14.5 points per game last year, Andrew Olson ’08 averaged 9.4 and Dan O’Shea ’07 averaged 5.8.